Top Freelance Gigs for
Computer Science Professionals

Pros & Cons, What to Expect & Earning Potential

Freelancing allows for some hard-to-beat benefits: flexible hours, unshackling from rigid corporate culture, increased opportunities for professional collaboration and the opportunity to be your own boss. Best of all, freelancers often avoid the tiresome commutes that plague countless white-collar professionals in large metropolitan areas – yes, we’re talking about you, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and New York.

People with a well-rounded suite of computer science skills often lean toward freelance work. In this guide we’ll cover some of the best freelance gigs for computer science, the pros and cons of remote computer science jobs, what to expect as a freelancer and earnings potential.

The Freelancing Life:
What’s it
Really Like?

The freelancing life isn’t for everyone. Working as a freelance IT professional for hire takes a big leap of faith for tech workers who are used to receiving weekly paychecks and company-sponsored health insurance.

3 truths that make freelancing great:

  • Flexibility: You can be there for all your kids’ school functions and athletic activities. You can go on a mountain bike ride or hit the gym anytime you wish. You can sleep in.
  • Autonomy: You don’t answer to anyone except your clients, and they will love you if you perform well.
  • No Drama: You’re free from the stresses of corporate politics, coworkers who don’t carry their weight and unfavorable bosses.

3 myths about freelancing:

  • You aren’t free of having a boss. Each client is essentially your boss. You answer to them now. If you fail them, they won’t fire you – they just won’t hire you again.
  • You are the keeper of your time. Yes, you can take Mondays off and work whenever you wish. However, the more time freelancers take off the less work gets done. Freelancer IT professionals can work wonders, but they can’t alter the inexorable march of time. Deadlines creep up, and freelancers who miss too many of them may find themselves without a stable of clients.
  • Freelancers get to do what they love. While this is certainly true sometimes, often freelancers take the work that pays rather than the work that piques their personal interests.

5 Pros & Cons of Freelancing

It’s great being your own boss, but freelancing also can be a grind. Here are some of the main pros and cons that many freelancers face:

PROS

Taking breaks whenever you wish

Better work-life balance

Freedom from a daily schedule and being stuck in an office

Better control of food choices since many meals will come from your own kitchen

Commanding greater wages than many employers in your field pay

CONS

No work gets done when you aren’t at your desk

Grinding until late in the night to meet deadlines

You’re stuck in your home office

Cooking breakfast or lunch when you really need to be working

Paying steep taxes – about 30 percent or more of gross income.

Is Freelancing Right for You? Take This
10-Question Quiz to Find Out

Prospective freelancers who’ve weighed the many pros and cons of the freelance lifestyle and still are thinking about joining the ranks of the self-employed should take this quick quiz.

  • Are you the head of your household?

    1/10

    If you have serious financial obligations, you may require the steady income of a fulltime job rather than the hit-and-miss pay that’s sometimes the nature of a freelance career. It may take a while to ramp up the volume needed to sustain a family.

  • Can you work with no supervision?

    2/10

    Although freelancers usually have routine deadlines, there’s no one looking over your shoulder and making sure you are on track. If you aren’t self-motivated, you’re freelance career is sunk.

  • Are you ready to work nights and weekends?

    3/10

    The great thing about freelancing is that you can work whenever you want. That also means you don’t have to work a 9-5 schedule. Freelancers often work late into the night and on weekends playing catchup for free time taken while others are stuck working in their offices during normal business hours.

  • Can you afford to be paid once a month?

    4/10

    Many freelancers are paid monthly. Stretching those checks for four weeks requires vigilance and adherence to a budget. Of course, freelancers also are free to negotiate payment terms with clients to avoid lengthy droughts in their income cycle.

  • Do you like wearing multiple hats?

    5/10

    Remote computer science jobs are much more than just managing a client’s database, ensuring network security or developing software. Freelancing means running a sole proprietorship – you are responsible for billing, contract negotiation, project management and other key aspects of running a business. These duties take both time and skill to handle properly.

  • Can you fund continuing education?

    6/10

    Many top freelance software developers, freelance database managers or freelance software engineers have earned key industry certifications that help set them apart from a crowded field. New freelancers may have to foot the bill for IT and data science certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and others companies and organizations that can help them both land new work and provide new clients with assurance that they have the skills to properly complete an assignment.

  • Is the alarm clock your friend?

    7/10

    For freelancers with heavy workloads, it’s imperative they begin their workday in a timely manner and strictly adhere to a regular work schedule. Freelancers who prefer to roll out of bed at 10 a.m. for a gym- tan-laundry schedule before working might be better off in a more structured work environment.

  • Are you good at self-promoting?

    8/10

    For many freelancers, work comes through existing contacts and there’s little need for marketing or self-promotion. Freelancers who need to build their network of clients not only have to search out new clients but also convince them they are the right person for the opportunity.

  • Do you have a quiet place to work?

    9/10

    Freelancers often need to go into “lockdown mode” when deeply involved with a time-sensitive project. Pets, kids and spouses are all serious deterrents to maintaining a steady work output.

  • Can you commit to the freelance lifestyle?

    10/10

    Routinely scanning well-known job boards probably will result in some positions that dovetail perfectly with your computer or IT skills. Many of these jobs likely offer attractive salaries and include medical benefits, paid vacations and other perks, such as catered lunches. Freelancing offers none of these standard benefits.

CS Freelance Career – 5 Top Jobs with Salary and Skills Needed

Following are five of the top technology careers for freelancers, including median annual salaries and key skills needed to succeed in each role from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. Software Developer

Software developers create computer software and applications. They typically earn Bachelor of Science degrees in computer science or a closely related field. Many also have a deep understanding of computer programming. They should have a strong business background in the field in which they work, such as knowledge of banking, finance or healthcare. They’ll need to be highly analytic to develop software that meets industry needs, and also be able to effectively communicate with team members and customers.

Median annual salary in 2017: $103,560.

2. Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts and related positions help ensure sensitive data, networks and computer systems remain secure. While many professionals working in information security and assurance have bachelor’s degrees, more and more employers prefer candidates who have earned M.B.A.s in information systems due to the additional years spent studying computer- and business-related coursework. Freelance network security consultants and information security analysts should also consider earning the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification to set them apart in the workplace. They should be detail-oriented, analytical, and adept at solving complex security issues.

Median annual salary in 2017: $95,510.

3. Computer Support Specialist

Computer support specialists help companies and their employees with technical assistance, or they support an organization’s computer systems and networks. Many computer support specialists work in call centers, but businesses also employ freelance IT support personnel to work nights and weekends. Although educational requirements vary, employers prefer support specialists who have completed associate or bachelor’s degrees. IT support specialists need to be good listeners so they can understand scope of a problem, as well as good at solving troublesome computer or network issues. They also should have strong customer service skills since they routinely interact with customers.

Median annual salary in 2017: $52,810.

4. Database Manager

Database administrators and managers usually have a minimum educational obtainment of a bachelor’s degree. However, employers often prefer candidates who have earned master’s degrees in database management, information technology or information systems. Like other freelance computer jobs, freelance database managers should be highly analytical, detail oriented, and have excellent problem-solving skills.

Median annual salary in 2017: $87,020.

5. Computer Hardware Engineer

Computer hardware engineers are responsible for researching, designing and developing new computers and components such as memory, circuit boards, processors and other equipment. Most have earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and many have strong aptitude with multiple programming languages as well.

Median annual salary in 2017: $115,120.

CS Freelancing in College – How Much Can You Make?

Freelancing is great way for college students studying a computer-related field to make some extra money. In many markets, there’s no shortage of gig-based work to be found for freelance computer programmers, freelance network security consultants or freelance IT support specialists. Here are five reasons why it makes perfect sense to seek out remote computer science jobs while still in college:

Building a portfolio.

It’s much easier to convince prospective clients about your freelance skills with a diverse portfolio of completed work.

Extra income.

Most college students welcome the chance to replace the dust bunnies in their wallets with some hard-earned dollars.

Establishing a brand.

Freelancers often have to market themselves as they build their brand. Taking on a bit of work in college is a great way to dip a toe into the personal brand development arena.

Flexibility.

Freelancers don’t have to punch a clock. Students can work on projects around their studies.

Establishing a network.

Freelance work comes from personal business contacts. Building a network of contacts while in college can lead to many different prospective clients upon graduation.

College students who are developing their computer skills in a bachelor’s degree program also can find part-time work in several computer-related fields. Here are two entry-level jobs, according to Payscale, that dovetail nicely with their growing skill sets:

IT Help DeskHelp desk technicians earn median hourly wages of $16.37. They help computer users either within or outside of their company by troubleshooting computer issues and resolving those issues. They may also help with installation of computer components and software. Some jobs may only require high school diploma plus specific certification, while others may require 2-4 years of education and/or experience.

Technical Support SpecialistTech support workers earn median hourly wages of $18.10. They help employees within their company come up with technical solutions and may also provide technical support. While an associate or bachelor’s degree is usually required, some companies will hire students working towards a technical degree. They may also hire college interns to perform some of these junior roles.

Tips for Finding & Using Freelance Job Sites for Computer Science

People are increasingly choosing to give up the regular paycheck that comes with fulltime employment for the benefits of becoming gig-based workers. As much as 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is working as freelancers, consultants or independent contractors, and that number could grow to 43 percent by 2020, according to Forbes.

Here are a few of the most common freelancing worksites for IT and computer professionals:

  • Upwork

    One of the most popular freelancing web sites for jobs in software development, IT and networking, data management, software development and many other categories.

  • Freelancer

    From web development and software architecture to HTML and PHP and more, millions use Freelancer’s crowdsourcing marketplace to find freelance talent.

  • FlexJobs

    A popular online resource for remote, part-time and freelance jobs.

  • Guru

    Millions use Guru to find jobs in software programming and development, app development, engineering and architecture and a wide range of additional remote computer science jobs.

  • iFreelance

    Businesses and freelancers connect on this online platform, which offers many different freelance IT and computer science jobs.

Tips for using freelance job boards

When applying for freelance gigs, follow these three rules to ensure a polished presentation and professional approach:

  1. Tailor to your audience. Don’t send out one kind of resume or cover letter. Each posting requires different skill sets and backgrounds – make those necessary tweaks to pique client interest.
  2. Don’t duplicate post. A lot of companies post the same job across popular boards or freelancing sites, so don’t accidentally apply twice.
  3. Be persistent. Don’t take rejection or disinterest personally! The freelance market is quite crowded. The risk/reward is higher, and freelancers need to stomach a lot of rejection for the promise better payouts.

Freelance Computer Jobs FAQ

We’ve listed many of the pros and cons of working remotely. Following are five frequently asked questions about the freelance life for computer science and IT professionals.

1. What freelance jobs can I do if I get a degree in computer science?

That depends on the skill set built in college and through working, and the freelancer’s areas of expertise. Here’s a sampling of freelance computer science jobs listed on popular freelancing site Upwork: software quality assurance; software developer; cybersecurity technical lead; solutions architect; and systems administrator.

2. Do I need a have a degree in computer science before becoming a freelancer?

Not at all. Freelancers can pursue any job that fits their skill set. Some clients may seek the assurance that comes with hiring freelancers with undergraduate or graduate degrees, but freelancers without a degree who have a proven track record of client success can land just as much work.

3. What skills should a CS graduate cultivate to work as a freelancer programmer?

Freelance programmers require the same skills as any other programmer – proficiency in software development, testing, debugging and documentation, among other skills. They also should be creative, adept at solving problems and troubleshooting, and good and communicating issues and resolutions to clients.

4. I’m a student in CS and I’m studying C++. How can I know if I’m ready for a job or freelance jobs?

Freelancers who lack years of polished expertise can offset those shortcomings with hustle, dedication and focus. Know your limitations, and make sure potential clients know them as well. It takes years to become an expert in any programming language, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough now to complete certain freelance jobs. Don’t be afraid of failure – or success.

5. I’ve got the skills to complete a wide range of freelance computer work. What are the keys to success when with working with remote clients?

Working remotely presents certain challenges since freelancers and clients typically never meet face to face. Fostering strong lines of communication through email, chat, video conferencing or phone calls, coupled with strict adherence to deadlines and deliverables creates accountability and trust in the freelancer-client partnership.

From the Expert

Adam Conrad is a longtime freelancer who runs a boutique software consulting firm in Boston. Learn more about his freelancing experience on Twitter @theadamconrad.

What’s the freelancing life like? Pros and cons?

Freelancing is a great combination of freedom and responsibility. The additional freedom usually comes about with remote work, which makes life much more flexible not only in terms of your workday but where you work from. It’s nice to be able to live in a lower cost of living city or a suburb rather than have to commute and work near a major (read: traffic-laden) city. The challenge, however, is that you must be exceptionally task-oriented and proactive about your work. If you don’t take care of things like sales and marketing, you will be without a paycheck. Freelancing is very feast or famine, so there will be periods of too much work and then periods where it seems like nothing is coming down the pipeline. The better you manage sales and marketing, the better chance you have of succeeding.

How can someone determine if freelancing is right for them?

If you’re a self-starter and you’re okay with selling and marketing yourself, this could be a career option. Many people get into freelancing only focusing on the upside of more freedom and better hours, but they forget that you now have to act as your own recruiter and agent. Writing up deals and proposals is quite a bit of time in a given week. If you happen to land a full-time freelancing gig, you’re going to be working far more than 40 hours a week. You may have a full client load, but you’re also going to need to spend additional time sourcing future deals, increasing your online presence and building up your portfolio. Be prepared to spend an additional 20-plus hours a week if you really want to set yourself up for success.

How do you know if you’re ready for a freelance career?

Start by working part-time freelance while working your full-time job. Build up a portfolio and at some point one of your clients will want you to work full-time as a freelancer instead of part-time. That’s how I did it and that was the safest transition into the freelance space.

Any additional first-hand insight into freelancing?

It’s exciting, but it’s also a lot of work. Find a good small business accountant and lawyer. You should not skimp on contracts and taxes. There are serious consequences if you get those wrong, but they are very easy to set up and cost very little money to get started. Plus, a tax accountant will likely save you money so it will pay for itself.

Additional Resources

We’ve listed some of the top job boards for freelance computer work, but there are so many more places freelancers can find work or resources to help them advance their careers. Here’s five more:

  • Dice

    Dice is the premier job board for technology professionals.

  • Indeed

    One of the nation’s largest online job boards also lists many different freelance and remote computer science jobs.

  • LinkedIn

    Freelancers can use this professional networking site to help build their brand profile, as well as to find potential clients.

  • PayScale

    PayScale’s salary figures often vary a bit from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the site delves much deeper and provides salary information by skill set, geographical location, and years of experience. It’s a great tool to help freelancers establish appropriate rates.

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Want to get a baseline on what to charge prospective clients? The BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook lists median hourly wages for many different computer science positions.